Gerald Ford was almost alone in understanding that there can be no healing without pardon. -Dick Cheney
In 1974, President Ford made the (agreed upon?) decision to pardon Richard Nixon for his serious criminal activity in order for the country to ‘move on.’ This miscarriage may have helped the country in the short term, but it also normalized the notion that sidestepping justice can help the country/community/society. Of course, ‘move on’ could just as easily be replaced with ‘not think about’, ‘not care about’, ‘not remember’, or ‘not think about the victims.’ In this case, the victims were real people, but democracy and justice were victims as well, both at the hands of Nixon and Ford’s pardon.
The Christian rhetoric for high-profile pardoning may feel good to the listener/citizen, but what part of our criminal justice system is particularly Christian for the average person? Can petty criminals avoid jail time if they recite the Beatitudes to their judge and jury? If I stop paying my taxes, can’t we just forget about it and ‘move on’ for the benefit of the country? True justice must be applied the same no matter skin color, bank account, or office, otherwise it is something other than justice. It’s an aristocracy or oligarchy or whatever.
Remarkably, Ford explicitly pointed to Nixon’s lofty status as a reason to exempt him from the accountability applied to ordinary Americans— a complete reversal and rejection of the central covenant of the American founding. -Glenn Greenwald
Fast forward to the 21st Century when the floodgates have opened for stories regarding systemic child abuse within the Catholic Church. Priests have been diddling young boys and girls since they made their first designs for cool hats to wear during mass, but it was mostly covered up or effectively ignored for centuries. So the question for our time is, what will we do about this as a society?
Enter Kansas City Bishop Finn, the latest high level Catholic leader to be exposed for sweeping abuse under the crucifix. He has admitted to keeping quiet about Rev. Ratigan’s unfortunate child pornography hobby, allowing the good reverend to take more pornographic pictures of a parishioner’s little girl before the police found out. To Jackson County prosecutor Baker’s credit, Bishop Finn has been indicted on criminal charges, which shouldn’t be surprising, but is.
Kudos to the prosecutor for doing the right thing, but what about the congregations and society at large that does not call for aggressive criminal investigations into these type of cases? Why, when the criminal in question is of some religious or political importance, do we just want to ‘move on’ and let it slide? These questions are important, because past abuse cases are often allowed to be handled internally by the church, and through civil courts with huge cash settlements. It’s clear that jail time will have to be precipitated by public outrage.
The following quotes by members of the diocese are telling: “But it’s frustrating because there’s not much you can do about it. It’s not like you can vote for bishop.” “If you’re a good Catholic you’ve got to forgive him.”
The result is: best to forgive and forget, rather than have your revered leaders and institutions muddied with criminal files.
Could this just be a religious, or even Catholic, phenomenon?
It seems the same perspective is being applied by many Penn. St. and Joe Paterno fans. Here is another case where some just measures have been taken — some that knew about Coach Sandusky’s pedophilia have been fired and put on leave. We also have both criminal and internal investigations occurring. Yet students and fans rioted when Paterno’s firing was announced, chanting, “We are Penn. State.” One student said, “the board started this riot by firing our coach. They tarnished a legend.”
They tarnished a legend. That’s what it’s all about. Never mind that Paterno could have done much much much more to have prevented child abuse. Never mind the children. It’s about the legend. The school. The football. The religion. The ‘forgiveness’.
Speaking of Penn. St.’s football game against Nebraska, Dave Zirin wrote: It was about the football program, not the children. It was morbid theater where people were mourning the death of a jock culture that somewhere along the line, mutated into malignancy. It’s a malignancy that deprioritized rape victims in the name of big-time football… It was just sad. It was sad because they still don’t get it.
It’s what this country has forgotten since the 1970′s, that prosecution is not about who the perpetrator of a crime is. It’s not about feeling good about our country, our church, our school. It’s not about ‘moving on.’ It’s about the victim. It’s about justice.